Saturday, January 31, 2009

Glad to Be Part of the Growth of Lacrosse in the Atlanta Area

For almost a year now, I've had the pleasure of volunteering for the Henry County Family YMCA, helping them establish a youth lacrosse program for boys ranging in age from 10-15. Last season, we had about 20 kids total show up - barely enough to field one team, let alone a team in each age group.

This year, after two pre-season clinics, we've seen more than 60 kids show interest and are planning to have a team in each age group - and we may have enough girls for a team as well. It looks like we'll have 4 home games and 4 away games (we only had two scrimmages last season), so all the returning and new players are very excited.

I really buy into the Y's mission of "Building Strong Kids. Building Strong Families. Building Strong Communities.", and see the positive effect organized team sports have on kids through the Y. Of course, volunteering really just gives me an excuse to run around the field and pretend I'm still 21 each week.

It would be an understatement to say I'm excited to see lacross growing in metro Atlanta, especially on the southside of town. Of course, I'm not surprised, since this is a national trend that is even more pronounced in Georgia.

Lacrosse is now the fastest-growing sport at the high school level in Georgia. In 1999, there were seven boys and six girls teams. There are now almost 100 high school teams (46 boys and 48 girls) in the State (Source: AJC).

Nationwide, lacrosse is growing at every level across the country. According to a recent BusinessWeek article, about 480,000 people played lacrosse last year, nearly twice as many as in 2001." There are currently more than 400 college teams and more than 1,200 high school teams in the U.S.

Want to learn more about lacrosse? Check out the web resources I provided below. Even better, do you live in the metro Atlanta area - somewhere on 75S - and want more information on the youth lacrosse programs offered by the Henry County YMCA? If so, visit their site here or comment on this post.

Have you seen exposive growth for lacrosse in your part of the country?

Friday, January 30, 2009

What's Your Conversion Rate?

I had a great brainstorm this morning with Todd Miechiels, a B2B marketing expert that specializes in lead conversion for small to medium-sized businesses. We were talking a lot about how surprising it is that many marketers still place so little emphasis on conversion. It seems like the focus remains on lead generation - generating as many qualified leads as possible - but less on conversion of those leads.

What's an Acceptable Conversion Rate? What is ROI to You?
Ask any marketer what an acceptable conversion ratio is for any strategy they're using in their marketing mix, and chances are good they know. Often, they consider anything that converts above the industry average to be a success. Others look more at ROI, often equating the return as anything above and beyond the cost of the campaign. If a campaign generates more than a dollar per dollar invested, it's considered a success. There was a return. In my opinion, ROI should be a specific and measureable goal - the desired yield from your investment. If you spend $1, how much will you generate in return. If it's not more than $10, I'd question the value of the program.

It's still surprising that so many marketers don't have an adequate system in place to track conversion - beyond their search engine marketing programs, where it's much easier to nail this down. Of course there are many issues surrounding conversion - first, what's your definition of conversion?

Rather than jumping on the latest marketing trend - like video, social networking or micro-blogging - it's better to take a step back and figure out which tactics will generate the highest-possible conversion rate for your industry, target audience and budget. The information is out there, often only a couple of clicks away.

As you're working through your marketing budget, or looking for areas to cut as you've got less money to work with, it might be a good time to ask yourself "What's my conversion rate?" on this program. Is it enough to justify spending money on it?

Marketing Automation Systems Can Help You Manage and Optimize Your Marketing Investments for Greater ROI
If there's one area you should invest in this year - assuming you haven't already - it's in the area of marketing automation. There are some great new platforms out there for managing the entire marketing progress, each of which delivers its own set of positives for tracking conversion and ROI. The more efficient you can make your marketing machine, and the better data you can get from your systems, the better position you'll be in to predict outcomes and adjust budgets accordingly. One good Atlanta-based company in this area is Pardot, which I currently use for some of the projects I'm working on. I'll talk more about these types of solutions in an upcoming post.

A quick note on email. If your current email marketing platform doesn't provide you with insightful conversion information, you might want to check out MailChimp (another Atlanta company). Not only does MailChimp provide you with valuable ROI calculators, but the provide you with comparison conversion averages and other useful data for your industry category. MailChimp also integrates seamlessly with Google Analytics, so you can more easily close the loop on conversion through your email campaigns - beyond opens and clicks.

Questions to Consider
As far as evaluating your conversion efforts goes, consider asking yourself these questions to help you refine your focus:
  • Do you really know the return you're currently generating from each marketing program you spend money on? Can you loosely draw a line from investmetn to revenue realized?
  • Are you setting your conversion goals based on industry averages (such as 5% being a good conversion ratio for direct mail), or are you striving for the best possible (above average) conversions?
  • Is there anything you could do differently to improve your conversion ratio across any of the programs? If not, are the results enough to justify continued investment?
  • If you use outsourced resources or agencies, are they providing you with regular assessments of the ROI they're generating for you? Do you know what their conversion ratios are? Do you agree with those assessments, or are you taking their word as experts?
  • If you were only to spend your money on one marketing program, which is most valuable to your organization? Chances are, this is the area that converts at the highest percentage.
  • Is there a different new marketing initiative you could invest in that would perform better than what you're doing today? For example, when was the last time you updated content on your website? Do you have a call to action or other way for visitors to engage you on every page? Are you using landing pages? So on, and so on.
The whole point with this post is to challenge you - particularly in leaner times - to look at all your investments across sales and marketing to determine areas where you can improve performance. It's sometimes easier than you might think to increase your results, even when demand is on the decline.

In truth, I'm not the expert in online lead generation and conversion, that's more Todd's area. You should check out his website and blog for more on this topic. Another good resource would be Brian Carroll's B2B Lead Generation blog (he's probably considered the top industry expert on this subject - not to take anything away from Todd).

What Do You Think?
So what do you think? What investments generate the best conversion ratios for your business? What's the best source of qualified leads for you? Are you using marketing automation systems already? If so, how have they helped you refine your processes and improve conversion? Let me know.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Taking My Own Advice On Blogging

I meet with people all the time to talk about marketing. They always ask me what the most effective marketing tactics are and what they should be doing to build their brands. I always recommend social media and blogging, telling people they should blog on a regular basis - as in posting daily - to attract a loyal and devoted following.

Of course, I'm a total fraud... at least when it comes to blogging. I don't have a blog. It's really a shame, since I think I occasionally have a good idea to share and have been a copywriter for years, helping others write articles and blog posts. It's not that I can't do it, or don't want to do it, but rather I just don't do it. Some might call it laziness or procrastination - I call it a failure to put one foot in front of the other.

So I'm going to get this monkey off my back and start blogging now.